CAN SAINT GEORGE HELP US SLAY OUR NATIONAL DRAGON?
By Marcia Hutchinson
Tuesday, January 12, 2009.
The Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day, the Scots Burn’s Night and the Welsh St David’s Day. Why do the English feel awkward about celebrating St George’s Day? Since Mayor Boris Johnson announced that he will be holding St George’s day celebrations in London there has been a bit of a fuss and a flurry. The problem it seems is not so much with St George’s Day itself but with what it means to be English and to celebrate the fact. Sadly elements of the far right seem to have hijacked not just the British flag but to some extent the English flag and St George’s Day along with it.
Many people feel uncomfortable about marking the day because it might associate them with far right political parties; with jingoism, nationalism and all that unpleasant wasn’t-the-British-Empire-Great, stuff. We want to feel proud of being English (and British) but we’re not sure how to do it without seeming to put other counties and communities down. We really need to find a way to celebrate Englishness to which we can all subscribe.
St George’s day is a great opportunity to rehabilitate our idea of Englishness. After all he is the ultimate multicultural Saint (I know the word multicultural is now deemed ‘unfashionable’ but bear with me). For a start he wasn’t even English. He was Roman soldier whose father was Turkish and whose mother was Palestinian – yes he has a closer link to the Gaza strip than to England and he’s their patron saint too! He was executed for refusing to kill Christians. He is also the patron saint of many other places, Ethiopia for one. There are almost as many St George’s churches in Ethiopia as there are in England. He is also the patron saint of the Georgia, (formerly part of the USSR) and Russia as well as Greece and Lithuania to name a few.
So if St George isn’t the quintessential English Saint, what is ‘essential’ Englishness. Cream teas, cricket and Morris dancing are what might spring to mind but this does seem to hark back to the past. More people go to carnivals than participate in Morris Dancing. The Notting Hill Carnival is the biggest annual celebration in Western Europe, and it’s origins are in the Caribbean. Whether we like it or not, England is (and always has been) a country made of up of many cultures.
The PSHCE National Curriculum requires children to be taught, at Key Stage 2, as part of preparing to take and active role as citizens; “to appreciate the range of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom”. Many children do not appreciate that the United Kingdom is a State made up of countries and that England is one of those countries.
St George’s Day is a great starting point for teaching them about their identity as English Citizens. They could look not just as St George and his life but they could research other countries (and cities) of which he is patron Saint.
They could also examine the myth of George and the Dragon. Did he really slay a dragon. What does the dragon symbolise? What are their own dragons, how can they ‘slay’ them.
We English need to learn to be proud of our heritage, to accept that there was good and bad in our country’s past. To accept and embrace the good but not deny the bad; loose the bathwater but keep the baby. Perhaps learning to love our country warts an all is the dragon we need to slay.
Marcia Hutchinson studied law at Oxford University before practising as a solicitor for ten years. She changed direction in 1997 establishing Primary Colours to meet a need for high quality culturally diverse educational resources. She has written for a range of publications, including the Guardian, The Yorkshire Post and the Caribbean Times. She was recently the subject of ITV's My Yorkshire. She speaks regularly at conferences and other events on education for diversity.
Marcia is available to comment on all aspects of education for diversity and issues around multiculturalism in schools. For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org